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12/10/08 2:29 PM EST

Rangers have big interest in Big Unit

Johnson's presence could influence young arms, says Ryan

LAS VEGAS -- Baseball's all-time strikeout leader is interested in bringing the next guy on the list to Texas.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan confirmed on Wednesday morning that the club is interested in pursuing free-agent pitcher Randy Johnson.

"He comes under the category of Ben Sheets," Ryan said. "It depends on what develops, but, yeah, because of what he brings to the ballclub."

The Rangers met with Sheets and his agent earlier this week. They haven't met with Johnson, but Ryan said general manager Jon Daniels has had conversations with his representatives. Johnson and Sheets are the two free-agent pitchers whom the Rangers will consider this winter, Ryan said.

Sheets is from Louisiana and lives in Dallas. Johnson lives in Phoenix, but has a long-standing friendship with Ryan dating back to early in his career. Ryan went out of his way to help Johnson turn his career around. Their friendship has endured. Johnson is also close to Mark Connor, the Rangers' former pitching coach who is still with the organization as a consultant.

"If you look at the free agents and the commitment we'd have to make, those are the two guys that would be the best fit for us among the free-agent-starter guys," Ryan said. "If you look at that group of people, there is a way better possibility of getting closer to those guys as far as the commitment we would have to make."

Johnson, 45, went 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 30 starts for the Diamondbacks this past season and struck out 173 batters in 184 innings. The one big concern is that Johnson has been dealing with back issues over the past several years. He's had two major surgeries in the past three years to repair a herniated disc. He started last season on the disabled list, but ended up missing just one start and had a strong second half.

He is now 295-160 with a 3.26 ERA in his career with 4,789 strikeouts. Ryan is the all-time leader with 5,714 strikeouts. Johnson is also a 10-time All-Star and has won five Cy Young Awards, and Ryan likes the idea of him coming on board to help mentor the Rangers' young pitchers.

"I'd like to see a person of his age and stature and work ethic come in and have our young guys see the commitment of a 45-, 46-year-old guy," Ryan said. "It can't be anything but a positive. Obviously, he brings some qualities that you like and not everybody brings. It definitely could be a positive where we are in developing our young pitchers.

"The fact that Randy knows me, and we're friends, we've worked together in the past, I think there is a comfort level. Someone who understands pitching and is trying to rebuild our pitching and take it to another level."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.